Jewish National Fund reported over 220,000 visits on Sunday to its forests, and thousands of Christians gathered in Jerusalem for Easter celebrations.
By Zohar Blumenkrantz, Zafrir Rinat and Revital Hovel

An estimated 450,000 visitors filled Israel’s forests, nature reserves and national parks on Sunday, even as the country was struck by exceptionally warm weather. Temperatures are expected to drop by between 6 and 8 degrees Celsius today, ushering in perfect conditions for outdoor activities.

The Jewish National Fund reported more than 220,000 visits on Sunday to its forests, with traffic increasing in the afternoon as temperatures declined. Sites in the north accounted for 130,000 of the total visitors reported. Park Hayarden National Park, Hof Hacarmel beach and the Gilboa forests were the most crowded of the sites overseen by the JNF. Hula Lake Park, which opened early Sunday morning to afford prime bird-watching conditions, was overrun with visitors over the course of the day.

Parks and nature reserves operated and maintained by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority recorded 240,000 visits Sunday. Heading the popularity parade was Gan Hashlosha (Sahneh), with 7,000 visits, followed by Tel Dan with half that number.

Zippori National Park’s “Bible Days” festival starts today, while Caesarea National Park will host its traditional horse race in the ancient hippodrome. The Nabatean market continues at Mamshit National Park in the Negev, while the nearby Avdat park offers tours based around the Nabateans who once inhabited the area.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem on Sunday, thousands of Christians gathered inside for Easter celebrations, crowding into one of Christianity’s holiest churches, worshipping, singing and praying. Catholics and Protestants took turns holding ceremonies inside the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

Thousands of Palestinian Catholics smashed eggshells against each other, representing Jesus’ emerging from his tomb. They ate circular bread symbolizing his crown of thorns and greeted each other with the Arabic felicitation, “Christ has arisen,” prompting the response: “Verily he has arisen.”

Some of the 35,000 people who came Sunday to the Haifa International Flower Show 2012 might have wished they had opted for a more au naturel approach to spring blooms. Many visitors complained of long lines and a lack of organization at the event, which was first held in the 1950s and has now returned for the first time in more than 20 years.

The Haifa municipality, which sponsored the event, said in a statement that it was overwhelmed by the number of visitors yesterday. It noted that starting Monday visitors must purchase tickets in advance to enter during the morning hours. The flower show continues through Saturday.

Around 45,000 passengers were scheduled to transit through Ben-Gurion International Airport yesterday. Charter flights to nearby destinations, such as the Greek islands, were very popular, as were flights to Turkey’s Anatolia region. Turkish charter airlines resumed flights to Tel Aviv on Friday, with three flights a day during the Passover holiday week.